Category Archives: Core

Cycling expert explains strategies for getting faster

Offers 10 tactics for maximizing hills

This is an excerpt from Cycling Fast. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

Climbs and descents make or break cycling races, according to cycling coach Robert Panzera. In his upcoming book, Cycling Fast (Human Kinetics, June 2010), Panzera covers hills and all elements that can make a cyclist faster, from conditioning to nutrition and key skills.

Panzera says even small climbs make a difference the closer a cyclist gets to the finish line. “Climbs are additive, meaning a 200-foot gain in elevation may not seem like much in the first few miles, but near the finish, it can seem like a mountain.” He advises cyclists to take special note of hills toward the end of the race because these hills split the race into two groups-the leading group going for the win and the chasers trying to pick up the remaining places. In Cycling Fast, Panzera offers 10 tactics for managing hills and staying in the lead:

  • Be near the front for corners that are followed immediately by hills. “This helps you prevent being gapped,” explains Panzera.
  • Shift to easier gears before approaching hills. “This prevents dropping the chain off the front chainrings when shifting from the big front ring to the small front ring,” he notes. “Quickly go around riders who drop their chains.”
  • Close gaps on hills immediately, but with an even, steady pace. “Once the group starts riding away on a hill, it is nearly impossible to bring them back,” Panzera warns.
  • Keep the pace high over the crest of the hill, because the leaders will increase speed faster than the riders at the tail of the group.
  • Relax and breathe deeply to control heart rate on climbs.
  • Dig deep to stay in contact on shorter climbs. “Once a group clears the top, it is difficult to catch up on the descent,” says Panzera.
  • On longer climbs, ride at a consistent pace that prevents overexertion.
  • Always start climbs near the front. If the pace becomes too fast, cyclists will be able to drop through the pack and still recover without losing contact with the pack.
  • Hills are a good place to attack. “Know the hill’s distance and location in the course before setting out on an attack or covering an attack by a competitor,” advises Panzera.
  • Try to descend near the front, but not on the front. Being near the front, as opposed to the back, gives cyclists a greater probability of avoiding crashes.

Panzera also advises noting all the descents before a race begins. “Long, straight descents may require work to stay in the draft, and twisty or narrow descents may require technical skills,” Panzera says. “If the descent seems technical in review, it will definitely be technical at race speeds.”

Cycling Fast covers the latest information on new high-tech racing frames, training with a power meter and heart rate monitor, and coordinating tactics as part of a team. Readers can learn how to periodize training and use the numerous tips, charts, and checklists to maximize effort.

Triathlon Training DVD series

I’ve reviewed this DVD series, “The Ultimate Training, Technique, and Strategy Series for Triathletes” and recommend you check it out. Most are taught by Clark Campbell, former Professional Triathlete and University of Kansas Swimming Coach.

The Bike, The Run, The Swim DVDs will take you through the nuances of technique and then go over detailed training plans in depth.

“The Core Strength: Pilates for Triathletes” is a superb teaching of core strength taught and flexibility by June Quick, Certified Pilates Instructor, licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Stanford University Swimming consultant. She explains the movements that are demonstrated by a beginner and pro triathlete, how to make some more advanced movements when you’re ready, and pre-hab to prevent common athletic injuries.

If you’re new to triathlon and learn better visually, this is the package you want. It’s like having a coach start you out. If you’ve been around the track a few times, pun intended, you may still pick up some technique and training pointers.

Championship Productions forwarded these to me for review and I’m glad they. I had not heard of them but these are some really good training resources.


Aerodynamics and bike fit for speed

Some practical wisdom on endurance sports nutrition from the book is “The woman Triathlete“, reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

“How fast you finish the cycling portion of a race depends on the
power you’re able to produce during the ride. Ultimately, power output
depends on just two variables: force and speed. Very simply, it depends
on how hard you push and how fast you pedal. The three forces you need
to overcome to move forward are air resistance, rolling resistance,
and, on climbs, gravity. Because gravity and rolling resistance depend
on weight, most cyclists try to minimize weight. This is most easily
achieved by using a lighter bike and componentry, but these come at a
high cost. Rolling resistance also depends on the road surface, as well
as the make, thickness, and pressure of your tires. The biggest
resistive force, however, is air resistance, which is dependent on your
speed and frontal surface area. At 20 miles per hour on a flat road
(gravity is zero), rolling resistance makes up less than 25 percent of
the total resistance, while air resistance makes up more than 75
percent. The most effective way to reduce air resistance is to draft
behind (or even next to) another rider. For a triathlete without the
option to draft (drafting is not permitted in most amateur triathlon
racing
), reducing frontal area has the greatest effect on performance.
Aerodynamic equipment–such as bike frames with tear-shaped tubes,
deep-dish wheels and discs, narrow water bottles, tight skin suits, and
streamlined helmets–can reduce some of the frontal area. However, a
rider’s body is by far the biggest obstacle. Bike fit for a triathlete
is therefore optimized with biomechanical fit and aerodynamic
positioning; many triathletes even choose to ride a less comfortable
setup in favor of better aerodynamics. Keep in mind, though, that a
comfortable setup that incorporates aerodynamics will usually result in
increased power output. Because road cyclists are allowed to draft,
they tend to place greater importance on biomechanical fit, comfort,
and handling of the bike than triathletes do, but triathletes would be
well served in finding a comfortable setup.

It is relatively
easy to adjust a traditional bike fit to a more aerodynamic fit. The
most cost-effective investment is a set of aerobars. Better yet, using
an ergo-stem along with your aerobars will allow you to more completely
adjust the position of your handlebars. A second seat post and saddle
combination will allow you to quickly move back and forth between a
road position and a time trial position with just one bike frame.
Because a traditional road bike fit often results in better (i.e.,
easier) handling of the bike, it is useful to be able to switch back
and forth between setups. You can convert your bike to match your
workout–aerodynamic position for solo efforts and time trials or a
traditional bike fit for group rides and hilly routes. Before you
adjust your bike fit to a more aerodynamic position, measure (and mark
with tape) how your bike is set up. It is always a good idea to have
the option of going back to a position that already works for you. Once
you have the necessary measurements, move your saddle forward one or
two centimeters. Because this reduces the distance from your saddle to
the bottom bracket, you may also need to move the saddle up (usually
about half the distance that you moved it forward). Now check your
reach by leaning forward into the aerobars. The front of your shoulders
should be aligned vertically with the back of your elbows. This
position allows you to rely on the skeletal rather than muscular
support of your upper arms for the weight of the upper body. Your
comfort and flexibility should determine the height of the handlebars
relative to the saddle. For example, if your hamstrings feel tight,
your handlebars need to be moved higher. Most likely, your cleat
position and your saddle tilt can remain in the same position as they
were in before.

No matter how aerodynamic you want to be,
injury prevention and comfort should be your main concerns with regard
to fit. Your knee rotates through many cycles on a ride–in just one
hour of racing at 90 revolutions per minute, you are completing 5,400
rotations per leg! If your bike is not properly fit to your
biomechanics, you will be at high risk for injury. Also, if you are
uncomfortable on the bike, you may become distracted by repetitive
twinges instead of being able to focus on your effort. Because a proper
bike fit is critical, you should be fit at a reputable triathlon or
cycling shop, by a certified fit specialist, or by a coach or physical
therapist who has experience in bike fit. A proper bike fit should
always include setting up your cleats (on the bottom of your shoes) in
the proper position: If your knee is restricted to the wrong range
through each pedal cycle, you’re almost guaranteed injury. Athletes
looking to be very competitive in triathlon should consider being fit
by a professional fit specialist who will take into account every
aspect of their biomechanics when adjusting their position. Look for
someone who specializes in triathlon-specific fitting, and expect to
pay $50 to $100 for the service (and anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for
services that include power output measurement or wind tunnel testing).

Even with a good bike fit, you may find that you are
uncomfortable on your saddle at times. If you experience this, consider
the following:

  • Never wear anything under your cycling shorts. The shorts are
    designed so that there are no seams in sensitive areas. Wearing
    undergarments adds those seams back between you and your saddle. Also,
    make sure you buy women’s shorts to ensure a proper fit.
  • Wash your shorts after each ride to avoid infections.
  • Use a chamois cream or ointment to prevent saddle sores and
    chafing. Apply it to both your body and the shorts for maximum
    protection.
  • Use a women-specific saddle. They are designed to support the wider sit bones of a woman’s body and provide increased comfort.”

Top 3 bike selection steps for triathletes

Having the right bike for you and having it dialed in can make a lot of difference.  It will make the ride performance better all around.  It can also help prevent injuries associated with cycling and cycling position.  This excellent excerpt from Triathlon Workout Planner by John Mora reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.

 

Selecting a bike

“If you’ve only recently been bitten by the triathlon
bug, the very first, most obvious symptom is an inexplicable need to
visit the nearest bicycle shop. Once you’re there, your symptoms might
progress toward writing out a check for a thousand bucks, or worse,
taking out the plastic. Hold on there. You might not need to shell out
four figures at this point.

If you currently own a bicycle and just want to finish
your first triathlon, you might be able to get by with what you have
until you’re sure you’ll be a lifelong multisport maniac. It’s not
uncommon for beginners to use a beat-up old road bike or a fat-tire
mountain bike for their first event, and there’s nothing wrong with
that. However, if you don’t have a bicycle (or can’t borrow one), then
you have no alternative but to look into buying a triathlon bicycle.
Also, if you’ve done a few triathlons and are looking for some advice
on making your first serious multisport bicycle purchase, the following
sections provide some guidance for you.

Tri-Bikes, Step by Step

Making your entry into the complicated world of cycling
equipment can be expensive and intimidating. Somewhere among the fancy
designs, shiny components, and black rubber is what you need. Without
some basic knowledge, a good understanding of your current needs, and a
clear vision of what lurks on your triathlon horizon, there’s a strong
chance that you’ll purchase the wrong bicycle.

Fear not. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making that
first big multisport purchase, with advice from triathlon bicycle
dealers, manufacturers, and coaches. Add to that some tales of woe from
professionals who can tell you (through their experience) what not to do when you’re making that big purchase, and you have no reason to panic.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Walking into a bicycle shop with no plan can mean
walking away with no money. Although most bike dealers will not
deliberately take advantage of an eager first-time buyer, by setting a
budget you are taking the first step toward controlling a situation
that might seem uncontrollable.

A cautionary word about overemphasizing equipment is
warranted. “Your best bet is buying a reasonably priced, entry-level
bike with a clip-on aero bar,” says cycling coach Bob Langan. “It all
comes to this: It’s not the seconds equipment will save you; it’s the
minutes a good aerodynamic position and proper training will.”

How much will you spend on your first triathlon bike?
Generally speaking, prices for entry-level racing bikes range from $900
to $1,400. Of course, the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend (if your bank account can handle it), but spending more than $1,400 is risky for two reasons:

1. You might not know what you need.

2. You might think you know what you need, but you might be wrong.

Does that mean you should go the other way and get the
cheapest two-wheeler you see on the dealer floor? No. Although the
frugal side of you might want to buy the cheapest Wal-Mart special you
can find, you’ll likely find it to be less than what you need. Better
to buy the most bike you can afford and be able to train and race with
comfortably, than have to start all over a few months down the road.

Step 2: Don’t Forget Accessories

One common mistake is excluding accessories from the
budget. Earmark $300 to $500 for accessories, more if you intend to
purchase optional equipment such as an aerodynamic disk, tri-spoke, or
deep-rim wheel. Some of the more basic bicycle accessories include the
following:

  • Frame pump
  • Patch kit
  • Spare tubes
  • Helmet
  • Clothing (shorts, jerseys, jacket)
  • Gloves
  • Cycling shoes (optional)
  • Clipless pedals (optional)
  • Aerobars (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Computer (optional)
  • Sunglasses (optional)

As you can imagine, your $900 bicycle purchase can run
well into four figures with the addition of these or other accessories.
Is all this stuff really necessary? Most of it is. You can’t race
without a helmet, and you need the additional comfort and safety that
cycling shorts, jerseys, gloves, and the other necessities afford you.

If you intend to transport your bicycle in your car, a
roof-mounted bicycle rack can run you well over $500. A less expensive
alternative is a trunk-mounted rack. Still cheaper is taking the wheels
off your bike and throwing it in the back seat or trunk.

In recent years, many bicycle manufacturers have included
clipless pedals, contraptions that attach your shoes to the bike for an
efficient, more comfortable pedal stroke, as basic equipment on
entry-level road bike models. This addition will save you close to $150
that you might have earmarked for this accessory. (If the bicycle
you’re interested in doesn’t include clipless pedals, it’s time to
start negotiating with your dealer.) Though many people fear being
attached to a bicycle with clipless pedals, you can get out of the
pedals at any time simply by extending your heel outward.

Cycling shoes are designed for use with clipless pedals.
Cycling shoes are stiff and transfer energy more directly to the
bicycle than do rubber pedals or toe straps. Cycling shoes vary widely
in price, from $100 on the low end to more than $200.

Aerobars help you slice through the wind. Better
aerodynamics with aerobars increases your speed and helps you save
energy for the run. As you train for longer distances, this accessory
will definitely fall out of the “optional” category and into the
“mandatory” list.

Speed Demon Fact

If you recall, Greg Lemond’s historic victory in the
1989 Tour de France came as a direct result of the performance
advantage of his triathlon aerobars. Wind tunnel testing has shown an
estimated average time savings of five minutes during an
Olympic-distance bike leg (40K) when a cyclist maintains an aerodynamic
position on aerobars. Other studies have shown that cyclists in a
proper aerodynamic position are more relaxed and experience decreased
heart rates.

Step 3: Understand the Choices and Know What You Need

Purchase a good racing bicycle that is versatile and
durable. Buying an entry-level racing bike that is upgradable can save
you time and money in the long term. For example, pioneering duathlete
Ken Souza’s first duathlon bicycle was a Nishiki International he
bought in 1982 for a scant $175. Though the bicycle served its initial
purpose, it was a touring model (a bicycle designed primarily for
casual riding) that Souza quickly outgrew. Yet the pioneering athlete
who put duathlons on the map continued to pour money into a pocket full
of holes. “It was ironic. I was spending all this money trying to
upgrade, trying to save a few dollars by not buying a racing bike. I
could have bought a real racing bike sooner if I hadn’t tried so hard
to upgrade a bike that wasn’t worth it.” So Souza’s experience makes an
important distinction—find a good upgradeable bicycle, but just be sure
it’s something that’s worth upgrading over a reasonable period of time,
You may very well outgrow an entry-level bicycle, but try and find
something that will last you for as long as possible.

Souza’s solution to his novice woes was one that you
might want to consider if the opportunity arises: “I bought a used
racing bike—a Vitus carbon fiber—from ex-pro Mark Montgomery. I think
that’s one of the smartest things a beginner can do. You’ll get
top-of-the-line gear, you can get a great deal, and it’s usually not
beat up.”

Cycling – Trends in Tour Races

In this excerpt, we learn about “Trends in Tour Races“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Since the beginning of the 20th century, three-week tour races have been extremely demanding. Compared to the old days, the current trend is toward shorter, more intense daily stages. In the years to come, it is expected that the average amount of time a cyclist spends in zone 3 per stage will be more than 30 min.

Physiological Demands of the Different Phases of Tour Races
In general, three-week tour races have three main competition requirements: flat and long parcours (usually ridden at high speeds inside a large group of riders), individual High Tech Cycling - Science of riding fastertime trials (40 to 60 km over level terrain), and uphill cycling (high mountain passes).

Every tour race includes seven or more flat stages of about 200 km, lasting four to five

In this excerpt, we learn about “Trends in Tour Races“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Since the beginning of the 20th century, three-week tour races have been extremely demanding. Compared to the old days, the current trend is toward shorter, more intense daily stages. In the years to come, it is expected that the average amount of time a cyclist spends in zone 3 per stage will be more than 30 min.

Physiological Demands of the Different Phases of Tour Races
In general, three-week tour races have three main competition requirements: flat and long parcours (usually ridden at high speeds inside a large group of riders), individual time trials (40 to 60 km over level terrain), and uphill cycling (high mountain passes).

Every tour race includes seven or more flat stages of about 200 km, lasting four to five hours. Most of the time, cyclists ride in large groups of 150 to 200 cyclists. This considerably reduces the major force—air resistance—to be overcome in this type of terrain. As a result, the energy requirement of cycling can be decreased by as much as 40% (McCole et al. 1990), making the overall exercise intensity low to moderate. The proportion of the total stage time spent in zone 3 barely reaches 5% (Lucia, Hoyos et al. 1999).

A great mastery of technical skills (such as drafting or the ability to avoid crashes) would seem most important in this type of stage, in which most riders are able to finish within the same time. In fact, these stages usually do not determine the final outcome of a tour race.

The high average speeds (approximately 45 kph) at which riders are able to cover these stages require that they push high gears (53 X 12 to 11) during long periods. This inevitably results in some muscle damage. Previous research has reported increased levels of muscle damage markers during cycling tour races (Mena, Maynar, and Campillo 1996). This phenomenon may have a negative impact on performance during the second part of a three-week race, during which accumulated muscle fatigue may considerably limit performance in the phases of competition that determine the winner—the time trials and high mountain passes.

Tour races typically include three time trials (TT) performed over overall flat terrains: a short, opening TT of 5 to 10 km and two long TT of 40 to 60 km. This phase of the competition usually influences the final outcome of the race.

Air resistance is the main force that the cyclist encounters during TT. Thus, aerodynamic factors (the cyclist’s riding posture, the size of the frontal wheels, etc.) play a major role (Lucia, Hoyos, and Chicharro 2000a).

Those who seek top performance (average velocity of 50 kph) must tolerate high constant workloads, mostly in zone 3, during the entire 60 min of the TT (Lucia, Hoyos et al. 1999). Some authors have estimated that the mean absolute power output sustained during long TT averages 350 W, although TT specialists probably generate much higher power outputs (greater than 400 W) (Padilla et al. 2000).

Some mass-start stages of approximately 200 km (the so-called high mountain stages) include three to five mountain passes of 5 to 10% mean gradient, and thus require cycling uphill during several 30- to 60-min periods over a total time of five to six hours.

When climbing at low speeds (about 20 kph), the cyclist must mainly overcome the force of gravity (Swain 1994). Because of its effects on gravity-induced resistance, body mass has a major influence on climbing performance. A high power-output-to-body-mass ratio at maximal or near-maximal intensities (6 or more W/kg) is necessary for professional road riders (Lucia, Hoyos, and Chicharro 2000a; Padilla et al. 1999).

In addition, rolling resistance resulting from the interaction between the bicycle tires and the road surface increases considerably at lower riding speeds and on the rough road surfaces of most mountain routes (Lucia, Hoyos, and Chicharro 2000a). To overcome these forces, cyclists frequently switch from the conventional sitting position to a less economic standing posture to exert more force on the pedals. Climbing specialists perform high mountain ascents at intensities in zones 2 and 3 (Fernández-García et al. 2000; Lucia, Hoyos et al. 1999). Because of team requirements, however, some riders are not required to perform maximally during high mountain stages.”

MIT’s “Chemistry of Sports” online course using triathlon

In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Chemistry of Sports course, they “… will be focusing on three sports, swimming, cycling and running. There will be two components to the seminar, a classroom and a laboratory. The classroom component will introduce the students to the chemistry of their own biological system. Since we are looking at swimming, running and cycling as our sample sports, we will apply the classroom knowledge to complete a triathlon.

With Course Goals

  • Apply the principles of chemistry to studying sports. These principles include: atomic and molecular interactions, thermodynamics, acid/base chemistry, bonding, electrochemistry
  • There will be weekly reading of scientific literature related to the topic of the week
  • Understand the chemistry of their own biological system through observations written in a training journal
  • Study the science of a triathlon (swim, bike, run) from molecular/chemical/biological point of view
  • Improve your own personal fitness level by training for the Mooseman triathlon (either Olympic distance or half-Ironman) and earn PE credit or by maintaining you own exercise program.”

All materials are in PDF format and it’s worth a read if you’re interested, like I am, in the science behind your training.

Click here for the MIT course.